St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: 16th May 2012 – Galling Experience?

Weather: mainly sunny and warm; occasional chill from a light breeze.

Observers: Hannah, Janetta, Linda, Lindsay, Kaye.

On a day like this, with no need for an occasional quick sprint to get warm, a very small area of the reserve could have kept us happy for hours. We made it along the Bund as far as the Kingfisher lookout then back up the main path, but there was so much to find that we could easily have spent our entire session on the first stretch. Waiting for another glimpse of a wren we heard singing; admiring the colour and delicacy of new oak leaves;  hoping for a bumblebee to sit still long enough to count its stripes – there’s just too much to do!

Birds: At this time of year, only the very early birder gets the bird. By 8.45 the serious singing was over, with just a couple of Song Thrushes and the resident Wrens calling for any length of time. In woodland below the Story Circle, we heard our aberrant Chiffchaff again, putting a funny little twiddle into the normal rhythm. On the Bund, a Willow Warbler briefly warbled in a willow before showing itself well, and there was a brief glimpse of Blackcap. However there is still no sign or sound of Whitethroat. Our first record last year was on 4th of May, so it’s getting seriously late. A couple of Swifts put in a brief appearance over the Melrosegate side of the reserve at around 9 a.m. but the only other flyovers were Carrion Crows and an unidentified immature Gull. There again, though, we spent much more time than usual looking downwards. We had one clear view of a male Bullfinch in full sunlight – others were heard calling softly in other locations. Robins, Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Dunnocks were scarce, and we failed to find Long-tailed Tits. House Sparrows were about near the Centre. Then there were Magpies, Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves…  Add in a pair of Greenfinches seen in the early session, and we have a grand total of 19 – rather disappointing for a bright May morning.

Mammals:  There was nothing at all to be seen this week, though Linda did find an intriguing little hole on a mossy bank.

Invertebrates: we are still finding lots of 7-Spot Ladybirds, along with the occasional much smaller yellow 22-Spot. The warmth brought out the butterflies: Orange Tip, Large and Small White, Speckled Wood and Brimstone were all flying, together with a couple more Blues that wouldn’t sit still to have their underwings inspected. A dead bee was almost certainly a Buff-tailed Bumblebee; live ones were not positively identified. Linda, inspired by last week’s bug survey, has started looking underneath everything, and thus found us an Ants’ nest in a fallen log, and a Currant Gall below a young oak leaf.

Oak Currant Gall (leaf upper side)

Oak Currant Gall (leaf underside)

This turns out to be a stage in the life-cycle of an Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus Quercusbaccarum, which also produces the Spangle Galls we found last autumn. The Spangle Galls, it seems, produce parthenogenetic females (= can reproduce without fertilisation). These lay the eggs that give rise to Currant Galls, from which male and female wasps emerge to reproduce sexually and start off more Spangles. Amazing!

Plants: as predicted, the warmth has brought a sudden rush. Horse Chestnut, Rowan and Dogwood are coming into flower to join the Sycamore, Hawthorn and lingering Bird Cherry. On a warm day like today, there is a fantastic scent of Honeysuckle from a cultivated variety along the main path near the Centre. Most of the late spring flowers listed over the past few weeks can still be found, but now there are Buttercups, Fumitory, Germander Speedwell, Winter-Cress, Wood Avens, Bush Vetch, Herb Robert and at least one other Geranium species. And that only covers half the reserve. We’ll try and get round the rest next week.


Ramsons (Wild Garlic)

17 May 2012 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: Oak Gall